“A heart of flesh is ferocious in giving more of what it has already been given in Jesus Christ. You see, if Jesus Christ is an inexhaustible well, then his believers in Christ are always walking in this strange kind of holy discontentment, wanting more and more of what we’re actually already enjoying. Gone is the indifference toward divine things. We have a tenderness of conscience, a tenderness toward sorrow and suffering, and a ferocious desire of more of what we already possess, not in a sinful, discontented way, but rather in a holy, righteous discontentment, the one that mirrors David when he cries out for more and more and more of the Lord.” Matt Chandler. [Sermon December 16, 2012. New hearts and lives]
I’m in week three of Mark Driscoll’s sermons on Esther, and I wanted to provide an ongoing commentary on the sermon series. As a bit of a backround on men, being a young reformed guy, Mark Driscoll more or less travels in the same circles of people that I look up to, whose sermons I listen to, whose books I read, and whose conference I livestream. I’m talking about the usual reformed suspects. I’ve appreciated many aspects of his ministry and have been built up and edified by a lot of what he has said, and more often than not I really like the way he says it. I love about 80% of what he says, am uncomfortable and disagree with 10%, and find the last 10% of what he says intolerable and dangerous.
A few days ago I read his blurb on Esther and was not surprised at the level of controversy it generated. I thought some people were spot-on in their pushback, and others were being too critical and unreasonable. As a results I took an hour or so and shared my thoughts here. I hadn’t even heard the sermons yet, but had based that solely on the release. This post has generated several thousand views, and I take that as encouragement that people are looking for information on this. As promised, I said I would review his sermons only as far as they relate to that initial statement, and I intend to do just that, with this one being the first in the series.
Jesus is a better King. [Esther 1:1-9]
I really enjoyed this sermon. I thought he did a thorough job at explaining the critical background, historical context, and the settings and characters. I’ve always believed that Mark Driscoll is a gifted communicator, and this sermon is no exception. He delved into the reality of Xerxe’s power, dominion, and the debauched situation he had created- which was a cesspool of sinful decadence and excess. He also effectively and convictingly related it to us in our modern context, using just the right amount of contextualization and relatability to sear our consciences. I think its a gift that, by the end of the sermon, I found myself staring into my soul and seeing all the Xerxes in me- where suddenly a wicked, immoral king wasn’t so far removed from the motivations of my own heart. This was a very good sermon by all accounts.
I found his final few minutes an amazing riff, and worth pointing out.
Here’s what Xerxes says about himself from an inscription that the archaeologists uncovered: “I am Xerxes the Great King, the only king, the king of all countries which speak all kinds of languages, the king of this entire big and far-reaching earth.” Xerxes thought he was Jesus. Some of you think you’re Jesus. Some of you honor, obey, worship, follow, adore people who think they’re Jesus. Jesus is a better King. Amen, Mars Hill? Jesus is a better King.
Xerxes was the son of Darius, but Jesus is the Son of God. Xerxes never tasted poverty nor humility, but Jesus tasted both poverty and humility to identify with us. Xerxes used his power to abuse women, but Jesus used his power to honor women. Xerxes spent his entire life being served, but Jesus spent his entire life serving others. Xerxes killed his enemies with an army of millions, but Jesus died for his enemies, saving billions.
Xerxes sat on a throne in Susa, but Jesus sits on a throne in heaven. Xerxes was the most powerful man on earth, but Jesus made the heavens and the earth and he rules over all creation. Xerxes said he would rule wherever the sun set, but only Jesus made the sun and rules over all of creation.
Xerxes died and today, no one worships Xerxes as god; but Jesus conquered death and today, billions worship Jesus as the only God. Xerxes thought he was a man who became god, but only Jesus is God who became a man. Xerxes’ kingdom had subjects from many nations, but Jesus’ kingdom has joyful worshipers from every nation. Xerxes threw enormous banquets, but the one Jesus is preparing for us makes his pale in comparison. Xerxes’ kingdom came to an end, but Jesus’ kingdom has no end. Xerxes declared himself king of kings, but he died. He stood before and was judged by the one and only King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mars Hill Church, today is our day of celebration. We are citizens of a greater kingdom. We have received a greater gift. We are looking forward to a greater blessing, and we gather in the name, and the presence, and the fame of Jesus Christ. He is our great King. He is a better King than any king and every king. He is the King of kings, and so now, we will celebrate Jesus Christ. And if they were willing to throw lavish, extravagant, fun, joyful parties for a demonic, false king, how much more should we rejoice and be glad that our King knows us, that our King loves us, that our King saves us, that our King seeks us, that our King serves us, and our King is preparing a banquet for us. Amen?
So that was all well and good. It was a very good sermon. But here’s where things get interesting. What stood out to me early in the sermon was this quote, as he was setting up the story and reasons for preaching.
[The book of Esther]…. is that controversial, and part of the reason it is so controversial is it’s difficult to interpret. At no point does the book of Esther tell us what their internal motivations were, what God’s external perspective is. It doesn’t give us any commentary, just history. Some of you will ask, “Well, what does the rest of the Bible have to say about the book of Esther?” Nothing.
I feel the same way about the book of Esther, and I think this is where the biggest disconnect came for me. I tend to take the view that if we don’t know a characters motivations; if the scriptures don’t fill us in on people’s thoughts and reasoning behind their actions, we don’t get to fill that in. We don’t get to assume them motivations that we are not told they expressly have.
This is the great weakness in Pastor Marks sermon. We don’t see this play out in this sermon very much, but we do in the next. After he tells us that the book of Esther does not tell us what Xerxes or Esther or Mordecai’s internal motivations were, he then assigns them some. Whereas in an earlier post I lamented that he was seemingly pulling them from mid-air, I don’t think that anymore. Instead, he seems he to have gotten them from bits and pieces of commentary from the Talmud, either the Jerusalem or Babylonian, and the Midrash. This is problematic however, because unlike the Scriptures which are infallible, the Talmud isn’t. I’ll delve into this further, but suffice to say this is the source of many of his problems.
I said before that his framework of Esther and her actions only works if he assumes the worst of her, and the worst positive motives on her part and this still holds true. But now I don’t think he’s assuming out of the madness of his own mind, but rather taking his cues from a handful of ancient Jewish rabbinic commentators and giving them way too much credit. We don’t speculate and state for certainty what the Bible has not revealed, and I think instead of taking this idea and running with it, Pastor Mark should have avoided it altogether. And even if he didn’t feel that he could, he should have at least qualified his narrative and stated that its one possibility out of many. That would have made a much better exegesis, and would have avoided much needless guesswork and assumptions.
A note on the critics
I used that picture above to make a point, namely that I think its a gross caricature of Pastor Mark. I believe that Mark Driscoll has some bizarre beliefs and theology, and in recent years has done things that have hurt and sown confusion into the greater Church body [needlessly graphic and explicit sermons, so-called visions of peoples sins, and more recently, his involvement in the Elephant Room with TD Jakes], I don’t recommend his sermons or his books wholesale, and tend to treat his ministry with some caution. I like to think I’m pretty charitable as a whole, but some of the comments and critiques have been disgusting.
Right now my post on Esther and Driscoll is linked on a nominally Christian blog which I do not support or respect They are the worst offenders, and their collective views could be boiled down to “Pastor Mark hates women and is a sex-crazed manipulator who gets off on dominating, shaming, and using and abusing them, all the while promoting others to to the same.” They have said that his Esther pre-release notes were essentially a rape apologetic.
That is a crazy, nonsensical, and sinful statement. Driscolls views on Esther in that blurb, while I think are grossly misdirected, are at least consistent with a certain presupposition and framework about Esther, one which at least some Talmudic writers spoke about and postulated. I think it’s wrong, but I’m not so morally and intellectually bankrupt that I would dismiss this whole series as proof positive that Pastor Mark approves of what was going on. Here’s just three small snippets from his sermon which makes it clear that he finds this behavior reprehensible.
“Over in another room, another portion of the palace, is Queen Vashti. She’s got all the women. When no women are present and no rules are in place, men become animals. Amen? What they’re doing is despicable, deplorable, disgusting, and depraved, and there are women there, but these are women who are getting used and abused.”
“He was totally consumed with the harem and all the women who just met all of his evil, sick, sinful, selfish, abusive desires.”
Now at this point, Xerxes, in hearing the story, would feel so proud. “Look at me in all my glory!” But it reveals something of a very wicked, evil, selfish, narcissistic desire to be God, to sit on a throne, to rule over nations, to ravage and abuse women, to indulge in food and drink in excess.”
Like I said- this is a good sermon. It will serve however to set the stage for next weeks, Jesus has a better Kingdom, where the real critique will begin. I’ll be posting it tomorrow.
Fort McMurray Alliance Church
Sermon Review. Brad Jersak. January 15, 2012. The Gospel in Chairs
Brad Jersak checks with archbishop Lazurte and Mirsolav Volf, who should be noted are not paradigms of fundamental christian orthodoxy. [In the case of Miroslav Volf, the man is a Post-Modern Moltmannian ] and says
“[I spoke about] …God violently torturing his own son to appease his own wrath, and what Volf said was this, he said ‘to say that the wrath of god needs to appeased by the sacrifice of Jesus would be heresy. This is because because it pits God against God the Father against God the Son and it shatters the Trinity in a way that they’re no longer one. And the fathers would have never allowed for that. Because in our creeds, in the ones we believe, God is forever indivisible, united, one God, three Persons. So along came the gospel in chairs. Let me show you another story, where I’m like, I need to upgrade my story.
An understanding of the way in which human and divine agency operates simultaneously in the events of history is critically missing at this point. Any description of the atoning work of Christ that portrays the death of Christ as anything less than God’s intention for the Son’s coming into the world is seriously flawed. Even as Jesus agonizes over the approach of his death he prays: “And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour” [John 12:27]
I spoke of this in the first post, but the death of Jesus was not simply a tragedy perpetrated through acts of human violence; it came about by God’s intention. There’s plenty of reasons why God intended Jesus to die but that he did so is unquestionable. In regard to that intention, its paramount that we always keep in mind the unbreakable harmony between the three persons of the Godhead. Some may complain that it was abusive for the Father to inflict such suffering upon the Son, but this completely misconstrues the mutual commitment on the part of Father, Son and Spirit to every aspect of the Son’s work.
Jesus came to die not simply out of a will to be obedient to the Father but because he was as committed to the redemption of a great host of human beings as was the Father and the Spirit. The Father loved Jesus because, as the Good Shepherd, he laid down his life for the sheep, but Jesus did this of his own accord, no one took his life from him [John 10:17–18 . Brad Jersak clearly does not understand the Trinity, and so all his mention of Jesus being pitted against God is nonsense. We will delve into it a pit further later in the post when he makes a clarification of sorts.
He quotes a particularly gruesome quote from Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the hand of an angry God and says that Edwards was his hero and that this is what he believed, but then states we can do better in the 21st century and can go back to the early Church fathers and ask what did those men preach. [notice that he has appealed several times now to the" Church fathers" authority without mentioning any of them, or without elaborating on what they believed or how they would agree with him]
Whereas in the substitutionary gospel that the overwhelming majority of protestants preach we have the chairs pointed away from each other, Brad’s restored version of the atonement always has the chairs towards each other. He paints a picture of history by pointing out various biblical vignettes where God comes looking for people. He begins by speaking about Adam and Eve in the garden, then mentioning the woman with 5 husbands, and says that because Jesus is God in the flesh, that God comes and sits by her at the well. He says “we know from Church history that her name is Photina and she became an evangelist and a martyr.”
Note that this is a terrible use of “Church history.” What are the facts surrounding St Photina the Martyr? She is not mentioned in any early Christian writings. Augustine’s Treatise on the Gospel of John [Tract. 15, 10-12] doesn’t mention her name, neither does St. Chrysostom in his Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, [book 32, chapter 4.] I’ve read a handful of early Christian commentaries and not one mentions her. It would seem that Byzantine hagiographers developed the story of the Samaritan Woman, beginning where Saint John left off, and that the story and name of her was compiled during the 8th century, probably from local traditions, martyriologies or overzealous scribes and commentators. Why should we consider that to be historically accurate? We have no good reason to, and if that is what counts as “Church history” I would hate to consider who he believes the “Church fathers’ are.
He states that in both stories God came looking for these biblical characters because God is always towards them. He offers a few more examples such as Jesus seeking Zaccheus, the woman caught in adultery [Brad says that she was cornered as a way of tricking Jesus, because they couldn't stand the message of mercy he had. Where in the Bible does it say that that the reason they wanted him dead was because they couldn't stand his message of mercy?] The man possessed by the legion of demons that Jesus sets free, and the paralytic man who comes through the roof that Jesus heals and forgives his sins.
“See, we take this very Jesus and we put him on the cross, and St. Stephen the Martyr says “God sent him but you murdered him. And we killed his one. We killed him. We tortured him. We abused him. We sent him down into death and the Father- the Father you know…gives Jesus access to death. This is important. Jesus goes down into the grave in what the early Church taught… that even [in] the grave, Jesus begins preaching the good news. Some of the early Church sermons says that he went down through death to conquer death and he went down into the very pits of hades and he found Adam and he took him by the hand and he walked him out and as he walks out of the grave as his father raises him up from the dead, a train of captives like a parade follow him out of the grave. And we see this in the epistles of Peter, we see it people who have been dead for a long time wandering around Jerusalem because Jesus had led them right out of the graves. And you know even, even when those of our friends and our loved ones, even when they enter the grave- when we…run into the penalty of sin which is death, and we all experience that still, what does the Psalmist say? Even in sheol I am there. He comes down and he makes himself one with humanity and he says “die with me so that you will rise with me”, and Jesus once said there’s coming a day when all who are dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man and be raised, and in that place those who return that love with hatred for as long as they want…have their backs turned on him, the torment of God’s love feels like hell. It’s his love. Have you ever resisted love to the point where it tormented you? Have you ever had your conscience punish you for rejecting perfect love? And for all eternity if we’re able to say no to that love we would experience the profound regret and the punishment of our conscience, but for those who turn to him and return that love with love it feels like heaven.
So the way we preached it in the past is almost like ‘well he’s got two places and you can go there or you can go there’. How the early Church taught it was that there is a river of fire, the glory of God, his perfect love that flows from the throne and to those who rejected it feels like hell, to those who receive it feels like heaven. It’s a lot like the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness. To the…to the…. Pharaoh and his armies, the very same cloud of glory that gave warmth and light and comfort to people of Israel felt like darkness and something fearful. So this is not about God threatening us, its about him welcoming us into his incredibly wide, deep, rich, long, wide, you know, love and saying you know, ‘who’s in?’ And he’ll say it for as long as he need sto say it. He says ‘I’m the ressurection and the life’, and he conquers death and I’m the one who lives and I was dead and behold I’m alive forevermore. And I hold the keys to death and hades.
Here’s a seed for you. If Jesus holds the keys to death and hades, and he is perfect love, what do you think he’ll do with them? And it just feels to me like there’s a wideness here that is just always wanting to push our boundaries about whos in and who’s out like we know. And what if..what if he loves you period.? So that’s a bit f the restorative version. Did you notice the direction of the chairs? The God chair is always towards you. On days when you’r being good he’s towards you. On days when you’re being really, really bad he’s towards you. Romans 5 says this “even when you were his enemy, Jesus made you god’s friends. “
There is much to be said about those three paragraphs. First notice that he is speaking on heaven, hell, eternal damnation, punishment, the rewards of heaven, salvation, justification, glorification, and there is no scripture to speak of. There’s nothing there. He is not exegeting scripture. He’s not examing Matthew 25:29-30, or verses 31-46. Or Mark 9:43-48, or Mathew 13:41-50, or Luke 16:19-31. He is merely tearing down the traditional, historical understanding of these things and asserting new definitions and understanding. None of this is biblical and at this point its evident, 35 minutes in, that he’s not even trying.
He makes more assertions about the early Church and what they supposedly taught. I’m guessing his idea of Church fathers are a few scattered 7th-9th century Eastern Orthodox mystics. That would make sense, especially after seeing his assertions about “St. Photina”. In any case, here is an extremely brief survey of some of the ante-nicene Church fathers and their views on hell and the eternal punishment. While you read these ask yourself; is what Brad Jersak’s saying about what the Church fathers believed true? Did the early Church really believe there was no eternal hell? Did the early Church really believe that even after death God was still calling people, and if they would only start to love him they would be free to go to heaven? That there is the possibility that eventually all will be saved? That “there is a river of fire, the glory of God, his perfect love that flows from the throne and to those who rejected it feels like hell, to those who receive it feels like heaven”?
Second Clement. If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect his commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment (Second Clement 5:5 [A.D. 150]).
Justin Martyr. No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire. On the contrary, he would take every means to control himself and to adorn himself in virtue, so that he might obtain the good gifts of God and escape the punishments (First Apology 12 [A.D. 151]).
[Jesus] shall come from the heavens in glory with his angelic host, when he shall raise the bodies of all the men who ever lived. Then he will clothe the worthy in immortality; but the wicked, clothed in eternal sensibility, he will commit to the eternal fire, along with the evil demons (ibid. 52).
The Martyrdom of Polycarp. Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3 [A.D. 155]).
Irenaeus. The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . It is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, “Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire,” they will be damned forever (Against Heresies 4:28:2 [A.D. 189]).
Hippolytus. Standing before [Christ's] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: “Just is your judgment!” And the righteousness of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212]).
Cyprian of Carthage. An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life (To Demetrian 24 [A.D. 252]).
Make no mistake, Brad Jersak, while not teaching full-fledged universalism, [or dogmatic universalism] does believe in a similar eschatology as Rob Bell does. He is a proponent of hopeful inclusivism, whereby death and hell is not the end. Even after death God still calls and woos people. He would posit that people still have the ability to freely deny the love of God in the afterlife, which seems like hell [thought it actually is not] or freely accept the love of God in the afterlife, at which point it would feel like heaven. This is the culmination of several ideas, such as God is a non-violent being who does not enact violence upon his creatures, mankind does not have original sin, God is never angry with people and has never been, God has no enemies, God is always facing people, and because God’s primary and overriding characteristic is love, he will always offer that love to people, in this world and in the next, at the expense of any judgements he might have.
Also, notice the false dichotomy he offers. In his restorative version of the atonement and God, his gospel in chairs, he points out that in his version God always seeks after people, and that his stories are proof positive of that. But doesn’t God do that in the former satisfaction view of the atonement? We too believe that God came to seek and save the lost. Him pointing out those few instances are not proof that his view is the correct one, and that ours is too small and needs and upgrade. He presents it as “In my view God seeks after people.” And as if ours doesn’t!? This is really bad argumentation. And so really, what arguments has he made that his new way is better and is the “real gospel”? He never used scripture, he made vague references to the “Church fathers”, he disparaged the other side using mindless caricatures… he ignored all the scriptures that directly contradicts him, and that’s about it? It doesn’t stand up to even the most basic examination and it would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous.
After this, Brad offers a brief commentary. He says there are two really critical revelations from this message, from upgrading our gospel to the gospel of a God who never turns from us. 1. This message never pits god against Christ. God never changes, and God is perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ. in short; Jesus shows us perfectly what God is like.
“Christ did not come to change the Father. Christ did not come to appease the wrath of an angry judge. Christ came to reveal the Father and to show us exactly what God is like. Let me put it this way- “God is like Jesus ” You know, we’ve tried to say “Jesus is God” for a long time, and that’s completely true, but what our world needs to hear is ‘our God is like Jesus’. He’s exactly like Jesus, he’s always been like Jesus and he will always be exactly like Jesus.”
“Paul said on the cross, its not that he was punishing Jesus. Paul says God was in Christ on the cross. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. How? Through punishment? No, through forgiveness. I forgive you.” . Zacahariah 12 says “Yahweh, God says this “you will look at me the one you have pierced. That’s God on the cross and when we committed the worst sin in history, the worst sin in the universe to kill our own God who had come in the flesh just to show us his love …when we did that what was his response? Did he pour out his wrath? No, he poured out his love and his forgiveness. Its like “I forgive you.”
Brad says “Christ did not come to appease the wrath of an angry judge” and yet we see God revealed as an angry judge over and over through scriptures. See Ezekial 7:2-9
“And you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD to the land of Israel, ‘An end! The end is coming on the four corners of the land. Now the end is upon you, and I will send My anger against you; I will judge you according to your ways and bring all your abominations upon you. For My eye will have no pity on you, nor will I spare you, but I will bring your ways upon you, and your abominations will be among you; then you will know that I am the LORD!’
Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘A disaster, unique disaster, behold it is coming! An end is coming; the end has come! It has awakened against you; behold, it has come! Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land. The time has come, the day is near—tumult rather than joyful shouting on the mountains. Now I will shortly pour out My wrath on you and spend My anger against you; judge you according to your ways and bring on you all your abominations. My eye will show no pity nor will I spare. I will repay you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst; then you will know that I, the LORD, do the smiting.”
Furthermore, I mentioned this in the last post, but this is a really strange way to view the Trinity. Christians ought to differentiate betwee the terms being and person. There is one being of God which is unlimited and eternal and that that being is shared fully and completely by three divine persons, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is not one third of the being of God, the Son is not one third being of God, etc. Each shares fully the being of God, and we are able to distinguish between the persons because of particular actions that they take both in relationship to one another, and in relationship to creation. So in other words, when we talk about the Father begetting the Son, the Father begets, the Son is begotten, and the Father and the Son together send the Spirit. And so these are distinguishing actions by which we can recognize the differences between the persons. They also take different roles in redemption. Neither the Father nor the Spirit became flesh, but rather it was the Son. It’s the Spirit who indwells the people of God, not the Father or the Son. So it’s important to be able to distinguish between persons and beings [and the distinction between the immanent and economic Trinities, of which the three Cappadocian Fathers Basil, Gregory and Gregory were largely responsible for carving out ]
Its for that reason that you cannot say “God is exactly like Jesus.” He is in that he is the same being, but not that they are the same person and therefore are not exactly like each other. Furthermore, following Brad Jersaks line of thinking, would it then be appropriate to say that Jesus is exactly like God who was meting out punishment and judgement in the Old Testament? Was it Jesus telling the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child? To raze the Philistines and butcher the Amalekite priests? Was it Jesus talking in Ezekial 7? I would be curious to know how Brad reconciles those ideas, as that seems to create more problems for him than it solves.
Brad states that the second revelation is that
“It never pits God against you. God is always towards you. He comes not as your judge but as your great physician, as your doctor. And Jesus was not saving us from God, he’s saving us from satan, sin and death. God never turns away from humanity. God is perfectly revealed in Jesus. When did Jesus ever turn away from a sinful person? Did Jesus ever say “you know what, you’ve gone too far- I’m too holy to hang out with sinners. I can’t look on sin. ” You ever hear that, that God can’t look on sin? Really? Is Jesus God or not? And who did he eat with all the time?
Right? so….the idea of somebody who would turn their back cause they’re too holy to look on sin- that’s not God, that’s the Pharisees. Let me make it really clear, this [two chairs facing away from each other]is not the gospel. This [chairs facing towards each other] is the gospel. The God that turns towards us calls us to turn towards him as forever and ever he says his mercy endures how long? Forever. Alright, so we made our two critical sort of…statements about theology. God is not pitted against Jesus, God is not pitted against you. This idea that he can’t look on sin, I’m like “where did we get that from”? And I found out in the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk comes to God and he says this. “You are a holy God and you cannot look on sin,so why do you?” That’s what it says. And we like took half a verse and made a giant theology about so that people feel like garbage. They feel like God has turned from them, [that] he can’t look at them. “I’m too bad” and even some in this room maybe felt like you’re too bad or some part of your life is like disgusting and deplorable to him. And he cannot look at you and he’s like [I'm not sure who the "he's like" is in this sentence. Habakkuk? That wouldn't make sense as he said nothing about Jesus] “he’s not like that.” He’s like Jesus.”
Brad Jersak asks “When did Jesus ever turn away from a sinful person?” Using his logic of how Jesus is exactly like God, and God is exactly like Jesus, and his propensity to mesh and distort the uniqueness and distinctness of the persons of the trinity, couldn’t I say that Jesus turned away from a sinful person when he first struck the Sodomites with blindness, then send fire from hell to destroy them? Or how about in Genesis 38:7 when we read “And Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD killed him.” Again in our Ezekial 7 verse? Or does executing wicked and sinful people not count as turning away? See the problems this results in? It’s not the penal substitutionary view that pits God against Jesus, but it is Brad’s restorative view which first distorts them pits them against each other. I do give him credit because I agree that God can look on sin, but he instantly takes that understanding and abuses it.
He states that Jesus did not save me from God, and yet Christ’s death on the cross had to exist precisely because God is against me. Romans 5:8-10 says
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! “
This tells us a few things
1. God has great love for us and demonstrated it in a particular way.
2. Being sinners necessarily means that we were God’s enemies. God is supremely holy and righteous and our sins are a great offence to him, and those sins result in us being his enemy and being against me. God can see me, clearly, in all my muck and mire and sin, and its because God can see me that I am condemned. ie “while we were God’s enemies”. If we remain as his enemies, his wrath would be upon us. This is echoed in John 3:36 “Whoever puts his faith in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see that life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
3. His wrath is terrible and we need to be saved from it. “we be saved from God’s wrath” We see this throughout the arc of scriptures, and also in Romans 2, where we see that the wrath will involved tribulation and distress and that humanity, due to their sins and being God’s enemies, is storing up wrath to be unleashed upon themselves. Hebrews 10 says “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. “
4. We are saved from God the wrath “through him” . That is, in our present state we were unreconciled enemies of God, our our reconciliation occurred when Christ “died for us” /”through the death of his Son” We see this also in Ephesians 2 “And we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. BUT God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, though we were dead in trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ.”
5. Even though I was a sinner and enemy of God, and fully deserving his anger and wrath, he demonstrated his love for me by saving me. This is wonderful, precious news. Brad Jersak opines that its a bad to feel that some part of my life is disgusting and deplorable to God, and yet we see that parts of my life ARE deplorable to him. Isn’t all sin deplorable to him? I would not be a sinner and an enemy of God if this were not true. But the glory of his mercy is revealed here, and lets me know that even when I am at my worst and most rebellious, God still seeks people and draws them to him and saves them. That is a warm blanket to my soul. I get to have a legitimate awareness of my sin and the horrific way that it offends a being who is perfectly holy, and I get to live with the beautiful awareness that even then, Christ took it upon himself, and that as 2 Corinthians 5:21 says “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” and Galatians 3;13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”
In any case, there is a lot more that could be said. I wish I had delved more into his bizarre view of propitiation and the way he framed the concept, as well as the relationship between Old Testament sacrifices and how that corresponds to Jesus, the lamb that was sacrificed and slain, and the types and shadows we see in Hebrews 10:1-19. but that will have to be all for now. I hope I am demonstrated somewhat reasonably that this sermon was rife with strange, unorthodox and heterodox beliefs about heaven, hell, the trinity, salvation, the atonement, god’s disposition and view of sin, wrath and judgement, the gospel, and so forth. I hope that we also saw how he used “church history” and “the Church fathers”- which was in a supremely superficial way which gets them vaguely referenced as evidence for his beliefs and yet never once discussed or brought to bear. Also note that Brad Jersak deconstructed many major theological themes and introduced his own unique spin on them without an appeal to the scriptures or to the word of God. Lastly, it should be noted that Brad’s view of these issues is internally inconsistent, and his non-violent hermeneutic falls apart as soon as the Old Testament is brought to bear.
The purpose of this review is not to make personal attacks against Brad Jersak, who I’m sure is a very nice man and is loved by his family and friends. Rather it is to be a careful examination of what is being said in the name of God to the word of God. I really do mean that this is intended to be a gift to the Alliance Church and to others, that they may come to grow in their discernment and be challenged and edified to be Bereans and examine what is said from the pulpit. I hope this offers concrete examples of how Brad Jersak actively preached false ideas about God, how he spun theological tales and tried to buttress it with human words and ideas instead of the holy scriptures.
This was the worst sermon I have ever heard in Fort McMurray, and I’ve listened to hundreds. I consider it poison; theological cyanide which was fed to the flock. That leads us to our last part of this review, which will be how then should we view the Alliance Church in light of them hosting this man and then supporting the content of the sermon itself. I will be posting that final response on Saturday evening.
Alliance Church Sermon Review. March 6. Communication. Pastor Phil.
Pastor Phil begins the sermon by telling the story of going on a cruise to Hawaii. He uses different aspects of his trip as a metaphor for relationships and conflict, such as going through storms, not letting the boat idle in 20 foot swells, that the journey won’t be easy, that you need to trust the captain at the helm, etc.
He spends some time dispensing with the belief that if we serve God that at some point “we’ll make it” and everything will be good. The reality is that if there’s life, there’s going to be problems, and that the Lord would have us develop an ability to walk through the problems. He then reads a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox called “Tis the set of the sail” which is about how in life will have problems, and that its up to each person to get through those problems.
We are not born with conflict resolution skills, and we need to have the proper perspective, so that we don’t get in trouble. A captain would never put his boat in peril on purpose, and yet if problems arise, there is no choice but to go through. Our society runs when that happens though. People run when they get hurt, which is detrimental. For this reason our attitude cannot be “oh no, a storm”, because if that’s the case we’re done. If you put your confidence in God the captain, you’ll be able to get through anything, especially in regards to relationships and communication. Conflict resolution can usually best be seen in the context of a marriage. He then gives us several steps in conflict resolution.
1. Call on God and say “God, we need your help”
13 minutes into the sermon we get our first crack at scripture, which is Psalms 145:18 “ The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. “ We are then told in no uncertain terms that “You are the righteousness of God in Christ. Not cause you’re in church, but because of what Christ has done for you”
2. Realize the person you’re dealing with isn’t your enemy.
Ephesians 6:1-18. There is no posturing or favoritism in God. Talks about how we ought to put on the armor of God and have that battle-ready mindset. He says that the number one tactic that the enemy wants us to do is fight each other. He points out the truth of the matter that if people are fighting each other, nothing happens. And yet our struggle is not against flesh and blood, and how do you rectify the two?
“The first thing you can do is say look, in your own mind first, my struggle is not against- we’ll I’ll use my wife as my example. My struggle is not against Linda. And there are times in our heat, and in our marriage, where I’ve had to look at her or she’s looked at me and said “I am not fighting with you. My fight is not with you”. And we’ve had to deliberately position ourselves in our thoughts, as to what it is that we’ve doing. And that was one of the first steps after calling out to God, I’ve looked at Linda and I said “You know what, I’m not fighting you. This isn’t between you and me, this is an assault of the enemy trying to get in and divide us, and make us go against each other.”
Phil says that knowing where the battle is key to your success. Its 85% of the battle. We must not fight against people, because our fight is against something else and someone else. Its not easy to do that, but we must. “You see that’s where we have to… the bible says cast down every vain imagination and everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ. What’s the knowledge of Christ? My fight is not against you. That’s the knowledge of Christ. Anything else that comes against that I have to cast down. I have to throw it away, because that’s not an accurate thought.”
3. Show up and be fully present.
This is the hard part. If we’re in a struggle, the last thing people tend to want to do is be together. They want their space or they want to walk out of the room or go into silent mode, Ignoring or letting someone landlord your life. We can’t do that. Conflict is not fun, but it’s necessary
4. Take ownership for actions that you’re responsible for and repent.
This is not saying something like “sorry you got hurt” or “sorry you were offended” but rather “I’m sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry I offended you.”
5. Agree with the other person
6. Use submissive language.
This involves your tone and the words that you speak. You don’t want to take the accusatory role of “you disrespect me!”, but rather should be something akin to “when this happens, I feel disrespected’.” Don’t listen to the enemy who gets you riled up and makes suggestive thought, listen to the person.
7. Repent and forgive and ask God for your help.
The balance of the sermon involves telling a story of a counselling session, how he pushed a young man’s buttons to help him get the truth out, and how we need to forgive. He says that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. If we cry out and ask him for his help he will be there for us.
This sermon had its strengths and weaknesses. I think it was at its strongest in the middle section, when he used large portions of scripture to back up his assertions of how we don’t fight against flesh and blood. That we’re not fighting people, but rather are fighting against something altogether different. I found it quite instructive, because oftentimes this can get hyper-spiritualized and relegated to the realm of spiritual warfare for prayer warriors and other such things. But this is a great, real world application that we are not fighting our spouses, employers, families, friends, or even enemies. Even stopping in the middle of an argument and saying “Love, I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m not fighting with you.” That makes sense, and it was rooted in a strong scriptural foundation. I can only hope that next time I’m embroiled in an argument with my wife or family, that I can recall these words and bring it to bear. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” Ephesians 6:12-13.
The rest of it though… I’m not sure it was as successful. Not because it wasn’t instructive, because it was, but rather because this sort of relational/non-theological topical sermon is not my cup of tea. Well- that’s not really fair. It was theological, just…loosely, if that makes sense. It’s probably good advice, but that’s not what I personally come to church to hear, or what I’m looking for in a sermon. I think he spoke true things about God, and I like that the whole thing had a very loving and pastoral tone. But but with little biblical support used to buttress each point, it seemed more like a lesson in spiritualized psychology than biblical theology. Its probably all completely true with the right application, but I was hoping for more and found myself wanting.
Two points I did want to comment on, was when he said the #1 tactic of the enemy is to have us fight each other. I’m not sure where it says this in the bible- that its the main tactic. I think its something that Satan utilities, sure, but I don’t see a basis for saying it is the number one of anything.
The second was that he said “but the Bible commands us to forgive [people]. And you know why the Bible commands us to forgive? Because if you don’t forgive you’re hooked to them for the rest of your life. And they don’t care that you’re hooked to them because they don’t care about you cause that’s why they hurt you in the first place” I would like to know what scriptures he bases that on. Where does the bible tell us to forgive, because if not were hooked to people for the rest of our lives? That may be a truism and a legitimate inference, but I’m unfamiliar where we see that that’s why the bible commands us to do it, and so if anyone could provide that reference it would be much appreciated.
I spent some time working on a sermon review for the alliance church. It was dated February 28, 2010 and it was preached by Mike Sotski. At first I was hesitant to post it, as in the sermon Mike announces that he’s moving away to take the pastorate in another church in British Columbia. I didn’t especially feel like sifting through all of that, but I did anyway. Unfortunately it was accidentally deleted, and so instead of re-writing it, I’ll use this space to share a fond memory I have of him. In fact, this is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote several years ago when I used to attend.
October 21. 2006
“We had our Saturday night service. The message was on “The Body of Christ” and who and what constitutes that body as believers. The point that was being made was that everyone is important and unique and, and that everyone brings something integral and needed to the church to bring completeness to people. There was a public reading of scripture. I was asked to read it, but I’m not that good when it comes to public speaking. If I get nervous or uncomfortable I either stutter, or I read through the thing clearly and concisely, but at about 500 words a minute. As it were, Danielle was gracious enough to take the helm, and she did a wonderful job. The verse was from 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. I know it’s kind of long, but I wanted to include it here because I believe that it’s worth reading.
“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
After it was read, we unveiled a table that was off to the side. On it was four heads of clay, a wash basin, towels, and about forty little clay balls. As the evening congregation is smaller, we quickly passed them around these little balls and encouraged the members to mold their clay into a facial feature. While the worship played, and at their leisure, the people designed unique [and oftentimes amusingly grotesque in their maligned appearance] body parts. Eyes. Nose. Lips. Ears. Hair. Cheeks. Chins. Pretty much the basics. But then there were some clever personalized accessories, mostly compliments of the younger kids who attended with their parents for the first time. Glasses. Piercing. Dreadlocks. Earrings. Death Spikes. Moles. Moustaches. Hats. Dreadlocks.
My own contributions were a Mohawk, a eyebrow ring [like me ] and the biggest soul patch I could make. But I watched this from my seat next to it, taking everything that was happening at the same time. The candles were burning and casting warm shadows across the sanctuary. The worship team, composed of three guys with acoustic guitars and one guy on bongo’s played songs that pushed god to the forefront of my heart. Across to the side was the communion table, with loafs of bread and pitchers of juice, and to my immediate left people were sticking on appendages while smiling and washing their hands; grinning at these ridiculous creations. And I knew as I watched this, that it was good. Maybe they didn’t get it entirely, and I suppose I would be very surprised if they did; but they got it a little more. It went a bit deeper. They grasped it and held on to it a bit tighter. It was a good message and a great illustration. And that it all we had hoped and prayed for.”
Good times, Mike. You’ll be missed.
MGA. Heaven. Glen Forsberg. January 31, 2010
Pastor Glen starts off the sermon talking about all the misconceptions we have of heaven, about how a lot of people grew up with this idyllic picture of us sitting in heaven and strumming a harp for a million years. Or perhaps we envisioned being a disembodied spirit wandering about a eerily mystical and shadowy existence. These are, of course, far removed from reality and if anything come across as either boring or undesirable.
He offers a quote from the always magnificent Spurgeon who was once asked about heaven and had replied “Heaven is home from exile, to come to the goal of my desires and to the summit of my wishes.” Glenn states that God has placed a desire in every person’s heart [for heaven] that is real and intended to be rewarded.
He then talks about how people have this idea that this world is evil and miserable, and they can’t wait to leave it and get to heaven which they believe to be the antithesis of heaven. And yet the earth is not evil. Evil stuff happens on earth, but the earth itself is good and beautiful. We are told that God is a redeemer and not a trasher. Part of the reason for these misconception about heaven is that there is a tremendous neglect on the teaching of heaven, and that many great theologians have dedicated hundreds of pages to our faith and life and yet there tends to be only a fraction of space dedicated to this important topic. [I definitely agree with this] Pastor Glen states that most people have very messed up ideas of heaven because these are gotten from movies and friends, and not on the Bible. As far as biblical references go, he points them out. Genesis 1:1, 14:19. Mark 1:10. Luke 3:21. Luke 10:18. Luke 10:20. Acts 1;11. 2 Corinthians 5:1. Philippians 3:20. Revelation 5:13. Revelation 11:15. Revelation 11:19. Revelation 19:1. Revelation 19:11. Revelation 20:1-3. Revelation 21:15-18. Revelation 21:23-25.
He makes the case that it’s true that we don’t know a lot about heaven, but we should not be like the people who refuse to talk about it. There are people who don’t believe we should even speculate on such a thing, and these people tend to quote the following verses as their prooftexts-1 Corinthians 2:9. Deuteronomy 29:29. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. He then rightly reads those verses in context and skilfully breaks down all misuses of these verses to show that they don’t say what people claim they are saying. He also comments on how some people accuse others of being “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good” , and how while there may be a degree of truth in that. he says these comments tend to come from people who don’t understand that everything is spiritual; that it’s spiritual to bake bread and that more often than not the people who are the most heavenly minded become the most earthly good. [Great point!]
Turning the corner a bit he talks about hell, and how humanity’s default position is set for hell. He states that hell is a real place and that you don’t need to make a decision to go to hell. It’s a broad road that leads to destruction….“But if you want to go to heaven you gotta make a decision. You gotta make a decision about the one who died on the cross. You gotta make a decision about a direction you’re going to take in life. Your default button is set for hell, but…you can rechange that. amen, By saying “I have made a decision”. The bible tells us “choose you now this day whom you will serve. Make a choice, amen” He states that a lot of people think if they don’t do the big bad sins like murder and adultery that they`ll be ok, but Jesus warns against the people who say “Lord lord” but haven’t acknowledged him as Lord and Savior [referencing Matthew 25. ] We are told that we need to choose today to follow Christ and enjoy heaven, and that once you have decided to follow Christ and serve him you are destined for heaven.
For the second act he talks about how God is going to recreate earth and recreate heaven, and that the reason that God is going to recreate the “current heaven” is because sin was hatched in the heart of Lucifer in heaven. Because of this, heaven will be recreated and restored. [2 Peter 3;13. Isaiah 45:18.] He refutes the idea that we are invaders of the earth and that human were somehow created for the earth [verse the biblical understanding that earth created for humans] Why is he going to recreate an earth? So that heaven could be on this renewed earth. Heaven and earth will be joined together and we can travel back and forth between them, and this will be the most wonderful place with no more tears or sorrow or sin. [I believe this is an accurate summary of what he said] When Adam sinned in the garden, God didn’t give up on us and say that this human project was a flop and close shop, but rather he redeemed mankind to get humanity back in a relationship with him, through the cross. God had a plan to redeem mankind before Adam even sinned and he has a plan to redeem the earth. [Right!] When this happens, we will have a new physical body that is free of pain and sin.
We are told that the majority of people in the world believe there is a heaven and that the best hope for death and loss is heaven. [1 Thessalonians 4. We don’t mourn like those who have no hope.] If you don’t set your eyes on heaven, you will live as a temporary being who is obsessed with your needs and wants in the here and now. He asks the question, What can I do to get to heaven? And states that the unbelieving will not be in heaven, but rather only the believing will. He then proceeds to give a gospel message and closes out the sermon with an invitation to accept Christ.
Overall, this was one of the better sermons that I have heard preached from the MGA in the last year or so. To start off, the topic of heaven is a pretty daunting subject but he does a great little primer on the topic. One area I really liked was how he spent time addressing all the false beliefs and weird preconceptions that people have about heaven, and thought he did a masterful job addressing the biblical objections that people have to even discussing heaven. He rightly interpreted those verses in context and he convincingly showed that we can talk about this, and that we can believe in the promises of heaven that the bible gives us, even if they are a little scant. I also liked that this sermon was full of scripture and that he read out the verses instead of just quoting the references off-handledly.As well, his thoughts on how the ones who are the most heavenly minded are the most earthly good has been in my mind all day, and I’ve really been meditating them and examining my own life. Because I am definitely not as “heavenly minded” as I would like to be, and at times I can feel the temptation of wanting to be a permanent resident in this world, instead of the alien I ought to be.
Another good thing was that through his talk of heaven and our default position of hell we find a breakdown of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is startling in that we rarely get so clear a picture from this pulpit. This is a big deal, as more often than not it’s muddled and assumed. I am working on a separate post about this, but in this sermon he offers up a true picture of salvation, of repentance for our sins and faith in Christ. I will say though that I wish he spoke of penal substitutionary atonement, and told us WHY Christ had to die for our sins, and WHY our default position is hell, and WHAT HAPPENED on that cross in the great exchange. I think that would have been useful, but Pastor Glen gets kudos nontheless because that presentation is heads above what we normally get and the clarity he brought was very fine.
One thing I will say though is that I don’t necessarily agree with him when it comes to the nature of the new heaven and earth, and to what degree it will be created or recreated or what it will look like when it is destroyed or restored. The talk about the new city of Jerusalem being on earth and what that will look like and some of the details he spoke of, I think, went a bit too far into the realm of speculation. I believe it is a valid interpretation- just not one that I would hold to.
Another issue that concerned me was his usage of Joshua 24:15. Pastor Glen made the statement that ““But if you want to go to heaven you gotta make a decision. You gotta make a decision about the one who died on the cross. You gotta make a decision about a direction you’re going to take in life. Your default button is set for hell, but…you can rechange that. amen, By saying “I have made a decision”. The bible tells us “choose you now this day whom you will serve. Make a choice, amen” In context, we read Joshua 24:12-17.
[Joshua said "thus says the Lord"] “And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.”
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed.”
In context, we see that Joshua had urged them to the Lord alone and to put away the false gods that they were clinging to and believed in. He said that if they preferred to be idolatrous and disloyal to Jehovah alone then they had to choose between two different categories of false gods, which were their ancestral gods from Mesopotamia or the gods worshiped by the peoples they had conquered in Canaan. Joshua was resolute in that regardless of which god they would serve, he and his household would be serving the Lord. Thankfully the people’s response was to decisively reject false gods and to serve the one true living God, which they did for a long time after that. And so what bothers me is that pastor Glen took other people to task earlier in the sermon for taking a bible verse out of context by not reading the rest of the verse, and he did the exact same thing here. Furthermore, those words “choose today whom you will serve” are not choices to choose Christ verses the devil, or God versess the world, or salvation verses damnation, but rather were the choice between two false gods.
I understand though what he was getting at, that we need to make a choice, but using those verse the way he did was wrong. I think there is a way to rightfully incorporate those verses into his sermon in order to make his point, and it only would have taken an extra minute to put it in context and derive the principle from it. You might say something like ” All of us need to make the choice of who will be our God, either the false gods of the world or the one true Lord. Long ago in Israel’s history, Joshua posed them a similar question . He stood before them and he powerfully and forcefully made them choose. He asked the question in such a way that left no ambiguity or ability to claim ignorance after the fact. The had two inescapable options. The were presented with the faithful one true God who had delivered them out of Egypt, wrought many miracles, sustained them in battles and who had personally and practically displayed his might and presence to them to believe in and put their faith in. But if they could not handle that or accept that; if that seemed evil to them and they could not give themselves over to that reality, then they were given a second choice. They could choose to suppress the truth and deny that and choose another thing to make their God. If they wouldn’t bow to the Father Almighty, Joshua gave them the option “choose this day whom you will serve. You can either serve this false god, or this false god, but you will never be serving the one true God.” Likewise if you will not bow the knee and repent and put your faith in the one true God Jesus Christ, then go ahead and pick your poison. You can make money,sex, ego or even yourself and your own abilities your own personal god. You can choose which of those you will serve and they will invariably lead you down the road to destruction and hell. A or B. Black or white. No middle ground. But as for us, as for my own family and household and all us believers, we have made our choice, and we WILL serve the Lord who is the Redeemer and Savior of the whole world. “
That’s an example of how one might use that verse in context. The way pastor Glen used it, however, is not in context. As well, I don’t agree with all the emphasis on man and his own decision to make a choice to save himself [being of a reformed background as well as holding to the Westminster Confession] but that is another matter, and this post is much too long already to get into that. In any case, as I said, this is a good sermon, and worth a listen to, even if I don’t agree with everything he said.
Pastor Bonnie. November 15, 2009. Paradigm shifts.
So this is essentially a sermon on having a change in perspective in regards to Christianity; or as she puts it- having a paradigm shift so that we don’t have a Christianity that does not make a difference. This is the main thesis of her sermon, and early on she reads from 1 Corinthians 1:5-9 , reading those passages from the Message Opinion Bible.
She starts off by asking the question “Does Jesus’ life and teaching matter? Does it make any difference or is it enough that we simply trust in the saving work of his death and resurrection and think “oh, we’re fine. We’re on our way to heaven”? Is his call to follow simply an instruction to the church and the individual Christians to tell others how to get saved by believing in Jesus or does the path of obedience require compassionate identification with all who suffer at the margins of society, or in deep agony of their losses”…
She then makes several points that it’s not about “me and the church body” but it’s about the “collective we”, that is to say everyone around us, including people who are on the fringe of society and those who are on the fringe of making a commitment to Jesus. She talks about the reality we’re faced with that people around us aren’t being transformed in the way they should, nor are people being healed, marriages being restored, society shifting towards God, etc. But she believes that they can be, and to make this happen we need paradigm shift. In her definition, a paradigm shift is a sudden change in perception and point of view. In a theological sense, during a paradigm shift our core beliefs don’t change [such as faith in God, view of scripture, fundamental convictions and creeds] , but the way we express those things needs to change.
She goes on a bit about the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18, and wonders how the rich young ruler led his life after that fateful encounter with Jesus, ad if he ever felt like he made a mistake and missed something. She says that he thought he was living a good life and doing what he ought, but Jesus gave him a different perspective. ” he went to him and said “good teacher, tell me more. What can I do?” And he got complimented for the things he was doing according to what he was always done, according to how he lived his life. And Jesus went a step father and asked ‘are you willing to give up all your wealth, and then you can follow me’?” She says that Jesus wasn’t saying that money was bad, but it had to do with who he was. In culture back then money represented a social status. [ I like that he mentioned this and discussed the social implications of not having wealth.] “It meant that you would no longer be who you are, and Jesus was saying ‘are you willing to give up who you are to come follow me’? and I’ve often thought about what that means to give up who you are to follow Jesus”
NOTE. I’m going to address this here and now. First of all, she paraphrases the man’s question, which sets the stage for her answer. He does not say “what can I do?” but rather “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We need to keep that in our purview if we even want to understand what’s going on. And there’s so much to say here. First, in response, Jesus does not let the ruler’s superficial view of “goodness” go unchallenged. Instead, he directs the ruler’s attention to God, in whom ultimate goodness resides, thereby showing that only in understanding God as infinitely good can he discover that human good deeds cannot earn eternal life. Second of all, Jesus does not compliment him! That’s a typical error that most people make when reading this passage. They assume that Jesus is agreeing with this man that he has kept the laws since his youth, but he hasn’t! No one keeps the laws of God perfectly, and so this man was being self righteous. So what does Jesus do? He exposes the man’s claims to be false. When Jesus says “one thing you lack” he’s not talking about some higher piety, but rather the kingdom of god, salvation and eternal life. Jesus shows that the ruler has not really kept the commandments, and he clarifies the meaning of true repentance, involving treasures in heaven. When Jesus says “follow me” it involves denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus as a disciple. And we see the efforts of Jesus to expose this man, which is that he was very sad because he was extremely rich. He loved his riches more than God, showing that he had kept neither the first commandment nor the tenth, for riches were his god and he desired them more than God. Jesus was calling to repentance and faith, not saying “You’re doing good so far, but I need you to do more” END NOTE
Turning the corner a bit, she begins to recount her internship many years ago, how she worked in the inner-city working at night and doing missions; and how her experience working with prostitutes changed her perspective on grace and ministry.
She then discusses a book that she read called “unChristian”, which is a book that studies the perception of non-believers towards Christianity and church and towards church folk. Unsurprisingly they find us hypocritical, anti-homosexual, old fashioned, prudish, weak on social justice, boring, unintelligent. unloving, etc. These are not things though that we should be happy with, as we are everything but, and we need to work on changing that perception of us. She says that most people have a negative view of the church and we need to offer them paradigm shifts, whereby the core essentials don’t change, but everything else must. In any case, Bonnie says that “We have to question what we’re doing and how we’re doing it if this is the perception if outsiders have of us. “ She recounts numerous paradigm shifts in the bible as Daniel. Jonah. Noah. The flood, early church etc. She speaks a bit more about Christianity that does not make a difference, and then she rightly goes after dead churches, and well as the abuses that occur, as well as apathetic Christians. She spends a bit of time reflecting on this Christianity that does not make a difference, and it is evident that she is fed up with it.
She says that “The church has become apathetic to change in Canada in the last 10 years. Change was needed, and we did not respond quickly enough, and we have become apathetic.” I don’t know which church she is referring to, and I don’t think she can even say that about other denominations, because as many people would disagree with her as agree with her. And so that’s sort of a weird thing to say. But she says that “To experience a paradigm shift, we need revival…. I think we need to be a part of a real focused generational transformational movement of God and the only way that true revival is going to occur is when we take it upon ourselves to say “I want a change in me. I want a paragdime shift in me. I want to see something different……Revival is old fashioned, so why don’t we call it paragdime shift?”
Bonnie then talks about taking a risk with God involving prophecies. She says that they’ve heard many prophecies from God about what God is going to do in the church in Fort McMurray, and she invites people to come to the front and list these prophecies, which they do, most of which invariably involve God working miracles and bringing revival to this city. She says that “God is asking us to challenge the way we do things, and saying ‘put my perspective on it. Don’t lose our theology or doctrine,’ but let’s challenge everything else. And that “God is asking us to put the vision casting back in the congregation.” The sermon with concludes with “We’ve been apathetic and change…and we need to have a paragdime shift, so please God helps us not be apathetic and help us desire change. “
This isn’t a sermon that I found especially motivating nor enjoyable. Not only because there was a woman at the helm pastoring [ which I do not agree with, nor do I recognize that as being an office that God has given her] but because she was preaching out of the Message Bible, utilizing false dichotomies, using scripture illegitimately, and diagnosing the symptoms instead of dealing with the root of the sickness itself. Which is not to say that there wasn’t anything good or edifying about the sermon, because there was, but these things simply overshadowed and outweighed them. To start us off, let us compare and contrast the scripture she used, which had no real tie in to her sermon. Really now. She spoke for almost 45 minutes and only used two bits of scripture, the first which was irrelevant and the second which was mangled. To show the contrast of versions, let us look at the ESV first and the Message second.
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord [1 Corinthians 1:4-9. [7-9 bolded]]
In contrast we see her “translation”; “Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.”
After reading her paraphrase she says “Don’t you love that? I love it when I read scripture that I’ve read over and over and over and I read it from a different translation and “pow”, it just stands out to me again. “ And this made me laugh out loud! She does not seem to acknowledge, or at least understand that the Message bible is not a translation at all, but rather is one man’s interpretive paraphrase. And so of course it’s going to go “Pow. Wiz-Bang! Ba-zang! Whoah! It’s like reading it for the first time. It’s completely different. Wow! Golly-Gee! What a fantastic perspective.” Uhh…That’s because you’ve added almost twice the words, blurred altered the meaning, and have inserted a bunch of things which were not there, including “He will never give up on you. Never forget that.” Which is not to say that such a sentiment is not true, but what kind of legitimate translation would add that to the end of a sentence? You couldn’t pull that stunt in any other arena and get away with it. You couldn’t add sentences to the end of political speeches, or in translating the Greek classics into other languages. That doesn’t fly in any other literary circles, but for some reason these Christians think it’s all peachy-keen to add whole sentences which don’t even exist to the rest of our holy, sacred scripture? It’s unbelievable. As well, this verse has no other tie-ins to the rest of her sermon, and so why is she reading it? It’s not like she’s going to do some expository work on it, or tell us what it means in context, or even use it topically. And I’m not against scripture being read for the sake of the word of god being preached and exalted. Far from it! In our church we always do scripture readings from the Old testament, Gospels, and the Epistles. But somehow I don’t think that was her intention.
As well, relating to her book, what I wish she would have done is offered up some sort of defence and not accept the conclusions so blindly, because I tend to be sceptical about the ability of believers to avoid unbelievers’ condemning caricatures and stereotypes. We know that biblically speaking, unbelievers are not prevented from faith in God by the people of God, but by the human heart, which is “desperately wicked” [Jeremiah 17:9]. While all of our good works are to be “conspicuous” [1 Timothy. 5:25] before the lost and so demonstrate the transforming power of the gospel, unbelievers hate the gospel and, in many cases, the people who believe it. And so we need to keep the proper perspective. Not only that, but the book has a rather weak definition of “born-again”, and this factors heavily into numerous surveys and assessments. As well, there is the propensity of the authors to take the testimony of unbelievers about Christians as if it carries no ideological bias or personal prejudice or theological flaws. For example, 80% of unbelievers can say that Christians are hypocrites because we are supposed to be about love, and yet we judge gay marriages, and that doesn’t make us hypocrites at all. In any case, that is not to say that the book is bad. The book is quite good, and in fact I would recommend it, but those things need to be kept in context and proper perspective.
At one point she says “Christianity that does not make a difference is a one where we are able to participate in traditional forms without thinking of the generation to come, and what will be needed to reach and disciple them. This does not mean that there is no room for tradition and ceremony, but to remember that we have a generation following that have no such attachments, and we are called to discover a way to reach them.” In this little bit, and elsewhere, she makes the case that young people don’t care about traditions and liturgy and ceremonies, because they have no experience with them, and so we probably ought to cut back on them so that we don’t weird them out. She says she’s not against them, but you get the picture that she would be glad to get rid of then entirely. And yet how hard is it to acclimate and teach these in our churches? The kids growing up in church are used to them. It’s only the kids coming who have no experience with them, and she acts like these kids can’t possibly care about it or be interested in it. But says who? We teach new converts how to pray, how to take the Lord’s supper, how to confess, how to take and view baptism, etc. We introduce them to a lot of practices that they are unfamiliar with and have no connection with, so is it so much a stretch to say that they couldn’t learn to love these and be interested in them? Keep in mind that many of these traditions and practices are hundreds and thousands of years old, and many people are drawn to that. And so that stability and that history and that rich stasis is something desirable to them to participate in. At the same time I’m not saying that traditions and ceremonies and liturgy are always good. I’m saying they’re neutral, and so in that sense there should be no push to get rid of them, nor should we necessarily feel that we ought to hang on to them at the expense of bringing in the kids. But I just don’t think that’s a valid choice. That’s both a strawman and an either-or fallacy at the same time. Some churches have them and others don’t, and because her denomination doesn’t, it doesn’t give her a right to say that the Anglicans or Lutherans are doing something wrong, or that they’re dying and are incapable of experiencing her paradigm shifts or in bringing in the coveted 16-29 year olds. Many young people love these churches precisely because of these liturgies and traditions, and so it’s not her place to say that these churches must change if they want to attract the young-uns and make a difference in our culture.
As to the whole prophecies thing, what I don’t understand is that if they believe they have had a bona-fide genuine prophecy from God, then why don’t they write it down in their bibles? I’m dead serious. If they believe there have heard prophecies about what God is going to do in Fort McMurray, and they are positive that it was God speaking, then they ought to open their bibles, skip past the book of revelation, past the book of maps, and write in the margins all that God is telling them and declare it as being authoritative and on par with the rest of the prophecies and the rest of scripture. Because these prophecies have three sources. God. The devil. Or one’s imagination, which if that is the case is evil and wicked because it’s falsely ascribing words to God that he did not say. And so if it’s a word from God, it belongs in his Word. Because I have never heard of God telling us that some prophecies he gives are authoritative and true, while others…are not so much. Or that maybe these prophecies are authoritative and true- but it’s like the book animal farm; all prophecies are equal, but some prophecies are more equal than others. What if I said that I had a vision from God and he told me that one of their prophecies that they had earlier were wrong? Who do we believe? And on what basis are they going to reject my contradiction of their prophecy from God? Inquiring minds wish to know.
In regards to this whole revival business, why is strong, biblical preaching never emphasized as a means of revival and of changing lives? Why is the gospel never emphasized as the answer to every problem? If people are behaving badly, they need the gospel. If they are being hypocritical, they need the commands of Jesus in the gospel. People who are genuinely saved and born again are regenerated and will be sanctified, and they will bear fruits. Not all at once, and not without some gaps in between, and not without a few missteps and backtracks and sins along the way. But if people want revival, they don’t have to pretty themselves up and find a new way to do things, a way that keeps the centre and throws out the rest. A new way to “do church”. Rather, they need to trust in Christ, repent, beg for Christ to humble them, rest deeply in the knowledge that their sins are forgiven, work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and then if God wills it, he may bring it about. And that’s where she draws these false dichotomies and mischaracterizes people. In her definitions, playing church is putting faith and trust in Christ but not helping the socially marginalized. Playing church is holding unto old traditions and not be willing to change everything. Yet I would consider twisting scripture and not preaching hard the word of God to be playing church. It’s not either or. there’s a balance to be struck and walked in, and for some reason we’re not getting that balance.
Lastly though, this sermon did have a few good points, namely in the passion it represented and in the care that Bonnie took to be clear that she didn’t want to do away with the historical, Christian orthodox teachings that we hold to. Major props to her for that. It’s clear that they desire something deeper, and better, and more real and transformative, and for their sake I hope they find it. I do actually appreciate sermons of this nature, where people can recognize that it’s no skin off our nose if we need to contextualize the praxis of the church a bit so that the theology can be more relevant. I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel, but it’s also clear that we can reevalute our practices for the sake of seeing the gospel proclaimed. The message never changes, but the means definitely can, and I think that’s what Bonnie is trying to say despite her misfires. What should a church be doing? I can point them to it; which is strong, accurate and deep biblical preaching, Christ-exalting worship, tough-love church discipline, the correct and frequent taking of the sacraments, and a fierce dedication to holiness and the commands of Christ and to proclaiming Christ crucified for our sins. That’s how its going to happen, and not in merely having a paradigm shift and by getting rid of everything that’s not our core. Or perhaps paradigm shift should be more aptly understood as being regenerated and born again. That will give one heck of a paradigm shift; to go from dark to light. I don’t know the inner workings of the church, and only know them by their sermons and their bulletins and so I’m not going to comment too much on it. I also know some of their pastors, and one in particular whom I really admire. But sermons like this are missing the mark. I understand the desire to rid ourselves of apathy. I just don’t understand their means of doing that.
[Relient K. Apathetic]